5 fun ways to enjoy the parks and nature around Manatee County

A holiday weekend is a great opportunity to disconnect from the everyday and have fun with family and friends – and the outdoors is the perfect place to do it.

The parks and reserves around Bradenton offer beautiful views, plenty of adventure, and a less-traveled alternative to the bustling beaches of Anna Maria Island.

Here are some ideas for having fun in nature near you. Remember to bring sunscreen, water, and snacks.

flowers of the botanical park of palma sola
There is an abundance of beautiful flowers to see at Palma Sola Botanical Park, a free outdoor attraction in Bradenton. Ryan ballogg [email protected]

Stop and smell the flowers

Florida was named after its abundance of flowers. Rightly so, there is something blooming all year round in the state.

Palma Sola Botanical Park in Bradenton is a great place to see and learn more about native and exotic flowering plants. Pollinating bees and butterflies are also common in the park.

Native wildflowers are frequently displayed at Robinson Preserve, Myakka River State Park, and other local natural sites.

robinson preserve the anhinga
5/30/21 – An anhinga, a water bird native to Florida, spreads its wings at Robinson Preserve in Bradenton. Ryan ballogg [email protected]

Bird watching

With its proximity to fresh and salt water and plenty of green spaces, the Manatee County area is ideal for birding any time of the year.

Prime birding sites include Robinson Preserve in Bradenton, Felts Audubon Preserve in Palmetto, and Celery Fields and Myakka River State Park in Sarasota.

If you are new to this hobby, technology is here to help. A smartphone app like Merlin from The Cornell Lab is a great tool for novice bird watchers; he can quickly identify birds with a few simple questions or uploading a photo.

Robinson preserve
5/30/21 – Things to do at Robinson Preserve include hiking, biking, rollerblading, boating, fishing, bird watching and more. Ryan ballogg [email protected]

Hiking and cycling

Robinson Preserve, a restored former farmland of native Florida beauty with over 7 miles of recreational trail, is a great place to stretch your legs or set foot on foot.

A hike in the reserve is a feast for the senses. Observe ospreys up close as they hunt, nest, raise young and defend their territories; smell the fragrant vegetation of the salt marshes; and listen to the air come to life with the hermit crabs’ tap dancing as they scurry through the mangroves. Set your course towards the observation tower or the NEST, two vantage points worthy of the name.

For more shaded hiking trails, try Emerson Point Preserve or Myakka River State Park. The Rye Reserve in the Eastern Manatee is a great destination for an unpaved hike or bike adventure.

robinson preserve paddle
5/30/21 – There are over 70 miles of waterways to explore by paddling the Manatee County Blueways trail system, part of which winds through Robinson Preserve. Ryan ballogg [email protected]

Paddle adventures

Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding tours are another fun option for exploring the outdoors around Manatee County.

Manatee County Blueways, a network of approximately 120 km of paddling trails, offers marine adventures for beginners and professionals alike. Depending on where you cast, there are chances of spotting manatees, dolphins and alligators as well as lots of fish and poultry.

If you don’t have your own gear, rentals are easy to find, and some companies jump right out of local parks like Robinson Preserve. The county-run Jiggs Landing Preserve also offers kayak, canoe and boat rentals.

Many rental companies also offer tours of the local waterways, and the De Soto National Memorial occasionally offers trips led by rangers.

Soto National Memorial
Signage at the De Soto National Memorial provides context on the site’s important role in Florida history. The park also hosts educational events and demonstrations throughout the year. Ryan ballogg [email protected]

Outdoor history lessons

The De Soto National Memorial not only offers stunning vistas and hiking opportunities, but also a chance to learn about Florida’s first inhabitants and its beginnings.

Other outdoor sites of historical significance include Manatee Mineral Springs Park and Manatee Village Historic Park.

Parks and reserves to visit

Ready to start your adventure? Here are a few parks and value stores to choose from.

Celery Fields, 6893 Palmer Boulevard, Sarasota.

De Soto National Memorial, 8300 Desoto Memorial Road, Bradenton.

Emerson Point Preserve, 5801 17th St. W., Palmetto.

Felts Audubon Preserve, 4600 24th Ave. E., Palmetto.

Jiggs Landing Preserve, 6106 63rd Street E., Bradenton.

Manatee Lake State Park, 20007 SR 64, Bradenton.

Myakka River State Park, 13208 SR 72, Sarasota.

Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S Tamiami Trail, Osprey.

Palma Sola Botanical Park, 9800 17th Ave. NW, Bradenton

Ryan Ballogg is a reporter and columnist for the Bradenton Herald. Since joining the newspaper in 2018, he has received awards for feature films, art, and environmental writing in the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is originally from Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.
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